'Five for Fighting' Entertains Walter Reed Patients
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 19, 2004 Navy Cmdr. Tom Johnson was listening to a song on his car radio by the one-man band known as Five for Fighting as he drove from work in early April. The disc jockey said, "It's great to have John Ondrasik on."
Navy Cmdr. Tom Johnson poses with his college buddy of 20
years ago, John Ondrasik, the one-man band called "Five for Fighting, after a
performance for patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center June 18. Johnson
had asked Ondrasik to perform for patients at Walter Reed. Photo by Rudi
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Johnson recognized the name as his college buddy from the University of Southern California.
"I met John in January 1983 when we were in the same dormitory," said Johnson. "The funny story is, I was always telling my wife about this guy who had a fantastic voice who lived down the hallway from me. And we'd gone to a Billy Joel concert together."
The two students hadn't been in touch for close to 20 years after Ondrasik transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles. Now Johnson tracked down Ondrasik through e-mail and congratulated his college buddy on his success. "I offered to give him a tour of the Pentagon," said Johnson, who works in the Joint Staff's intelligence office.
"I thanked him and told him if there's anything I can ever do just call me and I'll be there," said Ondrasik, who was now in Washington appearing at the 9:30 Club.
So Johnson took his musician friend up on his offer and asked him to perform for war-wounded and other patients at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Ondrasik agreed.
"I'm honored to be here," Ondrasik said after performing for patients in the Walter Reed Patient Recreation Center June 18. "It's nice to meet the true heroes."
In reference to his hit pop smash, "Superman (It's Not Easy)," Ondrasik noted that the song talks about heroes. He said he thinks the word "hero" is overused, but not when it comes to military men and women who fight for America's freedoms.
"Superman" became an anthem of survival after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ondrasik had played it in a New York concert that former Beatle Paul McCartney had put together for the families of the emergency workers, firemen and policemen after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"I played 'Superman' on a little piano for those folks and it was the most important thing I'd ever done to that point," he noted. "It was an honor to be there, and it taught me a lot about myself and this country and how music can truly matter."
Ondrasik said the "Ground Zero" experience sapped his emotions so much that "I had to close my eyes to get through it (the concert). You look out and see the tears and the families. It's kind of similar to coming here today. It's a lot of emotion that goes along with it.
"At the same time, you're just honored," he continued. "It's cathartic as well because you can express your feelings. And you can say 'thank you' in your own little way. That's what both of these things were."
Noting that he always writes songs about cultural things and big world view, Ondrasik said he was amazed when "Superman" became a special song for survivors and rescue workers in New York and Washington.
"I started getting e-mails from troops overseas, their families, people at the Pentagon, just saying what the song meant to them," he said. "I was just honored to be able to provide anything. So I started telling people that I'd do anything I can to support the troops and our country. I'm just a guy who writes and sing songs. You guys (service members) do the hard work."
In addition to performing "Superman" for the Walter Reed audience, Ondrasik also did his latest hit, the contemplative ballard "100 Years" from his new album, "The Battle of Everything."
Explaining why he chose the name Five for Fighting for his one-man band, Ondrasik said, "Hockey fans know what 'five for fighting' is all about. If you get into a fight in the National Hockey League, you get five minutes in the penalty box and they call it 'five for fighting.'
"Growing up in the music business, I felt like the guy who was getting punched in the face and having to go sit in the penalty box all these years," he said. "So it kind of reflected my experience."
Army infantryman Randall L. Clunen, 19, who survived a suicide bomber attack in Iraq, had never heard of "Five for Fighting" or John Ondrasik until his fiance, Heather L. Mann, 18, told him about the one-man band.
"I didn't know who he really was until she started telling me about him," Clunen said. "I'm now a fan because of my fiance."
Calling listening to Ondrasik play the guitar and piano and sing, "a great experience," Clunen said, "It helps uplift us. It helps with our emotional status. We're not as down. We're more upbeat now. It doesn't matter whether the person is famous; it's just that they take the time to come and do this for us, so we appreciate it.
"People come and do this stuff for us because we went over there and fought for their freedom," said Clunen, with the 101st Airborne Division. "So they feel they can pay us back by coming here and doing this for us. It's like a trade, basically. It helps our spirits knowing someone cares."
Clunen pointed out that he was in Iraq twice. The first time was from March 1 to April 30, 2003. He was evacuated out of harm's way to have an appendectomy. He returned on Sept. 11, 2003, and was hit "the day after my birthday on Dec. 9."
"A suicide car bomber came through our gate and got about 50 yards from me when he exploded the bomb," the soldier said. "There was 1,000 pounds of explosive in the car, which left a crater 10 feet wide, three feet deep and all I got was hit in the face with shrapnel.
Clunen said he felt "lucky" that his wounds were not worse.
His buddy, Army communications specialist Peter J. Sprenger, wounded in the same attack, said he was also lucky. Sprenger, 20, took about eight pieces of shrapnel in his legs, across his face "pretty much everywhere on my body," he noted.
A long time Five for Fighting fan, Sprenger said, "It's nice that he took time to come and play for us and talk to us."
"I was glad to have an opportunity to come to see the show," said Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Janice M. Frauendorfer, 44. "I think it's great when singers or other celebrities show support for the military."
Frauendorfer assigned to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., was at Walter Reed for cancer treatment. "I liked that 'Superman' song," Frauendorfer said."